I keep politics out of my posts here, except perhaps for sideline observations about those practitioners of the art who have not read their history books.
But this last couple of weeks, and particularly today, I have been quite disheartened by political events and various commentaries I've read, and where they are leading us (and I include the commentaries in that).
I took my opinion of politicians from my grandfather, who served in North Africa and Italy, and was a man who believed in a fair go for everyone. Basically, according to the Jim Nicol doctrine, no one really trusts politicians. If they don't start a war, cause an economic meltdown, break the law or obviously use their position for personal gain they've done about as well as you could hope. You expect a bit of grandstanding, but when it comes down to it, you demand they put that aside and the needs of the country first.
Like everyone where I come from and of my age, I believe in democracy as a political system. People run for office, tell us what they want to do, and then we vote for them, or don't. After the election we watch what they do and factor that in for next time. Talking politics among friends is fine - and good debate time, if you enjoy being challenged, as I do - but always with the understanding that friendship is more important than any political or debate stance, and that we will agree to disagree when ideas do not align, and that this will not be a problem.
But that was in New Zealand, and twenty years ago.
I was extremely disappointed to read, a week or two ago, in a New Zealand media outlet, an article calling for a perk that was available to elderly people - a subsidy for folks on benefits, including the pension, to help them heat the house in winter when electricity costs are so high - to no longer be extended to the elderly, on the grounds that older people tend to be better off financially than other demographic groups, and because most of them are white. This was done without spending any time examining the simple facts around either of those condemnations.
Then, in the same outlet, there was discussion of a recent New Zealand free speech kerfuffle. This article examined the implications of denying speakers we don't agree with a platform, and concluded that it was a complicated issue, but denying the platform was probably worse. Sadly, the most liked comment on this article proved that neither the commentator nor his 'likers' understood either the article or the concept of free speech.
Then of course we've had more international politics, but I don't want to go into that.
What disturbs me is this: essentially, the ability for democracy to function is being undermined, and at a scarcely believable rate. At its heart, democracy requires an informed, engaged, and parochial electorate (by parochial I mean an electorate that considers wanting the best for country and citizens to be an essential 'good', while also recognising that such is not the only good). To get that within a democratic state we need a number of things. We need common ideas about what is good for the particular state and its citizens. We need accepted ideas of right and wrong. We need a common standard for verification of truth. We need laws, an acceptance that the law is just, that it applies to all equally, and that those wronged have recourse to challenge the law itself when the law is wrong.
All of these things are under threat.
Instead of an informed electorate, we have lifestyle opinions. People are engaged, but upon very narrow lines. Local-issue parochiality has been replaced by selectively appealing global-issue parochiality, and inevitable distortions have ensued. Ideas of what is good for a particular country have been undermined by what is good for the parochial sub-group. Basic ideas of right and wrong are I hope holding up, but it's getting more fraught all the time. The common standard for verification has been bushwhacked. Claims of self-interest, systemic bias and so on have made it very difficult to get acceptance on a common set of public facts, and this has led to competing claims and competing constituencies. The law is seen as something which favours certain groups, and so other groups feel justified in using whatever means to highlight and subvert this (not necessarily in that order).
As wonderful as the internet is for wargaming, in politics it has removed our idiot filter. The newspapers, magazines and publishing houses that filtered discourse and maintained common standards of fact and evidence are no longer the gatekeepers. The internet has become one giant letter to the editor, and those who share similar views congregate and make their own truth.
There is a militant attitude, based around causes, that defines a lot of internet interactions: a strange but understandable sort of mutually endorsing 'belonging' affair. Again, we are confronted with parochial - and often not fact-based - opinions which many people do not have the intellectual tools to treat with discernment.
I'm worried about where we go from here.
I fear as constituents of democracies we are losing our ability to make informed choices. My hope is that innate scepticism and cynicism will come out, even among the parochially engaged, but I am concerned that time may be running out on our old order.